Food trucked into Venezuela from Brazil under a law allowing it to be transported for humanitarian needs is being diverted to Venezuela’s black market.
On June 30, Brazil renewed a decree, first passed in March, barring people from entering the country from Venezuela due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the decree makes an exception for trucks crossing for “humanitarian reasons,” an excuse which food distributors in Venezuela have used to buy Brazilian products to sell in Venezuela at inflated prices.
In July, El Pitazo reported that foods and other items were being bought in Brazil and sold on the black market in Venezuela.
Officials and residents in the town of Santa Elena de Uairén — in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar just 16 kilometers from the Brazilian border — told InSight Crime that dozens of trucks cross the border each day carrying food from Brazil. The products include staples like rice, powdered milk, coffee, sugar and butter. Sausages, cooking oil, mustard, jam and canned goods have also been transported.
A town official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said most items are sold for about three times their original prices.
“While a kilogram of rice costs 60 cents in Brazil, it’s sold for $2 in Santa Elena de Uairén,” the official said.
Additionally, drivers are allegedly bribing border officials to bring across tobacco and fuel, items that are not covered by the decree but easily sold on the black market. Despite Venezuela having the world’s largest proven oil reserves, its economic collapse has seen gasoline being smuggled in from neighboring countries.
A liter of gasoline currently costs less than $1 in Brazil but sells at between $6 to $7 per liter in Santa Elena de Uairén, residents told InSight Crime.
Border authorities are also reportedly trying to take a cut of this lucrative contraband trade. According to El Pitazo, Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB) members at a checkpoint on a major road near Santa Elena de Uairén are administering coronavirus tests to truck drivers, telling them they tested positive and forcing them to pay $100 each in exchange for a guaranteed negative result.
InSight Crime Analysis
With Venezuela suffering food shortages from the one-two punch of an economic tailspin and the coronavirus pandemic, a lucrative black market trade in goods is thriving as people starve.
The decree was meant to allow Venezuelans to have access to food from Brazil, but it has mainly favored government authorities, vendors with links to officials and members of the Bolivarian National Guard, Ricardo Delgado, former mayor of the Venezuelan municipality of Gran Sabana on the Brazilian border, told InSight Crime.
According to Delgado, a large proportion of the food doesn’t even make it to everyday Venezuelans. “A lot of the items are transported strategically, for example, to mining areas of Bolívar state to ensure that illegal mining can continue,” he told InSight Crime.
Worse, this black market directly fuels other criminal economies in the region. “Buying food in Brazil is allowed but it’s often being paid for with (illegally mined gold). So it also leads to Venezuelan gold being smuggled into Brazil,” Delgado said.
Brazilian officials in the municipality of Pacaraima, on the border with Venezuela, told InSight Crime that they have taken no action to stop these schemes.
“What happens on the Venezuelan side is not the Brazilian government’s problem,” said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.